Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writers #8: How to Bounce Back from a Negative Review

Authors: like other creatives, we’re in a unique position. After spending months–maybe years–writing a book, designing a piece of art, or creating a musical score, we publish it for the world to read, see, or hear. And then, to critique on Social Media. Members of the general public (many of whom have never written, designed, or created anything) can mark us with one star, like a quick, red F on a report card. Devastating! Or is it?

When that first negative review comes, it can be crushing. How could this person not appreciate all the time and effort we put into our art? We threw a piece of our soul out there, and someone just stepped on it. A one star review adds an extra grind of the heel. Now it’s time to figure out why. Carefully read that review and look for clues. Remember that everyone was raised differently, with a wide spectrum of disparate beliefs and experiences that help form their opinions. Many of which differ wildly from ours.

One poor review I got was for my first Skylar Robbins novel: The Mystery of Shadow Hills. In this book, Skylar is stuck at her bullying cousin Gwendolyn’s house in Malibu for the summer, and forced to attend summer school where she doesn’t know a soul. In art class, a cool, creative girl named Kat befriends Skylar. Kat claims to be a junior witch, and introduces Skylar to “everything Wiccan.” They sneak down to the beach at midnight hunting for magic seeds, and cast spells together in a forgotten garden, intending to grow gems. By the end of the book, Skylar starts to question not only her friendship with Kat, but her own judgment. She wonders aloud whether everything magic and Wiccan Kat had introduced her was phony, slight of hand, and a series of hoaxes intending to fool Skylar for her own benefit. I inadvertently offended members of the Wiccan community with my portrayal of the witches and wizards in this novel.

Here is an excerpt from that long 2-star review which started out positive: “I did NOT like that the author felt compelled to label the Wiccan faith stereotypically, mainly as old women with rough hands and men who were socially inept, when there was a real opportunity here to be educational and accepting of the faith as much as she was accepting of person with disabilities.” When I took the reviewer’s perspective into account, the 2-star rating made total sense. It also made me revise Skylar’s opinion of “Wiccans” to “this group of Wiccans”. Look for keys to your reviewers’ personalities in their words. You might just find a priceless nugget of constructive criticism hidden there.

Finally, if you are still feeling down about a one or two-star rating, look up the works of some of your favorite authors on Amazon. I’ve been amazed that best-sellers also get poor ratings and reviews. How could everyone not have love that book as much as I did?! I think. Easy. They’re not me.

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #5: Grab the Reader with Your First Sentence

feather_quill

The most important thing to do when starting a new book is to grab the readers’ attention from sentence #1, so they cannot help but continue to read. Book buyers frequently open the book to the first chapter and read the opening page. If it doesn’t interest them within a few sentences, the book goes right back to the shelf. Can’t you picture your own hand grabbing a novel, reading a few lines, and instantly putting the book back where it came from—because the initial paragraph didn’t grab your attention? You must have an exciting opener.

Writers may ask, “But what about setting? Backstory? Character development?” All of those elements are very important, but your reader won’t read far enough to get to them if your opening lines are weak. How likely would you be to buy a book if the first paragraph you read was nothing more than a description of the weather? It’s amazing how many self-published novels begin in this uninteresting way. Your description of the setting might be creative and well-written. Yes, that thunder and lightning may foreshadow something exciting or dangerous to come, but without introducing your reader to the characters or the plot conflict first, who cares about the weather?

Your main character and the essence of the plot must make their entrances right off the bat. Please take a look at the first paragraph of my second novel, SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014) with these thoughts in mind.

I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.

After reading this paragraph you already know the following facts:

  • The story is written in the first person, and the protagonist is about to start middle school, so she is 12 or 13-years old.
  • She is going to experience a monstrous, life-changing event during this book.
  • It starts in the next half-hour, so you­—the reader—won’t have to wait long for the action to begin.
  • She’s about to get involved in a dangerous mystery involving a missing person, a hidden fortune, and a threatening group of adversaries.

The more conflict and tension you can introduce on the first page, the more likely potential readers will be to buy your book. Save those tasty descriptions of your setting for later. Start your first chapter off with a bang!

If you enjoyed these tips, I’d really appreciate you sharing this post with your friends. Thank you!

 

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #2

feather_quill

I found these quotes to be very inspiring. While they were probably not written in regards to creative writing and the process of getting published, they certainly apply. The first one was my mom’s credo. It’s my favorite, and words I live by. I hope these words inspire you as well.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
― Calvin Coolidge

“If you try anything, if you try to lose weight, or to improve yourself, or to love, or to make the world a better place, you have already achieved something wonderful, before you even begin. Forget failure. If things don’t work out the way you want, hold your head up high and be proud. And try again. And again. And again!”
Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Winston Churchill, Never Give In!: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches

 “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”
Vince Lombardi

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Karen Lamb

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #1: Revise

feather_quill

In a recent interview I was asked what advice I would give to aspiring writers, and this was my reply:

Enjoy the writing process and revise, revise, revise. Get as many people as possible to read your manuscript and give you constructive criticism. Don’t just rely on family and friends for feedback. They love you and will tell you your book is great, even if it isn’t.

Find beta readers in your target age group who you don’t know personally. For instance, I asked my account base at work if they had children who would be willing to read my book, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills, before publication, and emailed the manuscript to those kids. Their feedback was invaluable.

Finally, don’t let rejections from agents deter you from getting published. Self-publish if you don’t get a contract; you’re going to do most of your own marketing anyway. Calvin Coolidge said it best: Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!